Exclusive | Story behind the Iconic Photo from the Amchang Eviction

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Image: UB Photos

By Manjori Borkotoky

Guwahati, November 30: An image of a girl, dressed in an Anarkali set, carrying a gas burner in one hand, walking away from a crowd has taken the internet by storm. The photograph was clicked on Monday, the first day of the latest eviction drive at the Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary on the outskirts of Guwahati in Assam.

This photograph from the eviction drive speaks volumes…of the hopelessness the girl feels as she had just seen her home razed to the ground by the forest department’s elephants in the background. She has absolutely no idea of what to do next. So, like all others who faced the same fate that day, she is just carrying her belongings to another place, perhaps a makeshift shelter.

She is wearing what looks like a fairly new Anarkali Kurta, perhaps her best outfit. Most of the encroachers there are too poor to afford new clothes frequently. She seems to be a teenager, probably in her mid teens, and alongwith the gas burner and other essential household items, she must have worn this dress to save it from the onslaught of the pachyderms that were deployed to bring down all illegal settlements within the reserved forest.

The walk was the same, till he could see her says the photojournalist Pritom Chetia who had gone there on assignment that day. He is a photojournalist with UB Photos and usually covers sports events.

“I had just reached and was waiting there clicking photographs of the elephants and the police who had come to the site with the eviction officials. I noticed her and saw extreme pain behind the blank expression. I clicked a few pictures of the girl walking away from the chaos. I watched her as she crossed me and walked away, her body language remained the same till I could see her,” says Chetia who has been capturing news through his lenses for the past seven years.

Her face and her body language as she walks away from the elephants and the eviction officials have been haunting everyone who has seen this photograph.

On being asked if he followed her or tried to talk to her, Chetia said, exclusively to TIME8 “A few of the photographers were trying to talk to some of the locals who got evicted, but nobody had the heart to talk to her after seeing the lost expression on her face. To see your home brought down like that can be devastating… I got emotional too.”  He usually checks the photos right after he clicks satisfactory ones, but at that moment, all he could do was wonder where she will be going and what the rest of her story was.

This photograph is reminiscent of Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize winning capture of the Napalm Girl, caught in a moment of desperation as she ran from her village and her home, her skin burning. A photograph that encapsulated the terror of the U.S. war in Vietnam.

We don’t know if this photograph by Pritom Chetia wins an award. But it has, for sure, encapsulated the heartbreaking scenes from the recent eviction drive and will remain in public memory for a long, long time.